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Fears of instability in Uzbekistan as President Karimov suffers stroke

Stroke fells autocratic leader with whom Moscow has had a difficult relationship but whose brutal methods have kept his country stable.

Alexander Mercouris

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Confirmation that Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov has been taken critically ill following a brain haemorrhage will be causing concern in Moscow.

Along with Kazakhstan’s leader Nursultan Nazarbayev Karimov is the last remaining leader of a former Soviet republic to have achieved power as his republic’s Communist Party First Secretary before becoming the republic’s President when the USSR fell apart.  He has exercised autocratic control over Uzbekistan ever since, being the only leader Uzbekistan has known since it became independent.

Karimov has run Uzbekistan with an iron fist, heading a regime notorious for its human rights abuses and its brutal treatment of internal dissidents.  These methods have been ruthlessly effective, with no evidence of any serious opposition to Karimov’s rule at the present time.

Though Uzbekistan is a poor country, it is rich in natural resources and with a population of 31 million is one of the biggest of the former Soviet republics.  It has also historically been the cultural centre of Central Asia, with cities like Samarkand and Bukhara famous for their monuments and history.  Its size, potential wealth and location at the heart of Central Asia make its stability critically important for Moscow.

Though Uzbekistan is a traditional centre of Sunni Muslim culture, Karimov has run Uzbekistan as a secular unitary republic, ruthlessly suppressing any manifestations of political Islam there.  In doing so he has claimed – and perhaps exaggerated – the threat of Al-Qaeda and of Islamist terrorism in his country.

Karimov has also pursued a relentless policy of Uzbek nationalism, seeking to distance the nation from Russia and denying a role for Tajik (once the most common language in towns like Samarkand) as a minority language.  One of his more striking reforms was to change the spelling of the Uzbek language from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet.  Notwithstanding this anti Russian policy Russian remains widely spoken and connections to Russia at an economic and social level remain close with many Uzbeks choosing to work in Russia as guest workers and some emigrating there.

In foreign policy Karimov has pursued an erratic course.  At times he has tilted towards the US, hosting a US military base and involving himself in anti-Russian regional groupings such as GUUAM (“Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova”).  However in 2005, after his brutal suppression of protests in the town of Andijan, which provoked protests from the US, Karimov appeared to switch alliances, tilting towards Russia and China.  The US base was closed and Uzbekistan essentially quit GUUAM, and is now a member of the Russian and Chinese led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation instead.

Karimov has never however fully committed to Russia and China.  Uzbekistan remains outside the Russian led Eurasian Union.  Though it briefly participated in the Russian led security organisation the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, it soon quit.  There have been persistent rumours that one reason Karimov has held aloof from these organisations is because of his feelings of jealousy towards Kazakhstan’s leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, whom Moscow tends to look on as its chief ally in the region.

The Russians will be watching the situation in Uzbekistan in light of Karimov’s illness closely.  Whilst for the moment the situation in Uzbekistan is stable, they will be concerned that it remain that way.  For the Russians instability in Central Asia leading to Jihadi groups led by Al-Qaeda getting a foothold there is a nightmare, and one which they will work to prevent at all costs.

Beyond that there is the question of Uzbekistan’s future course.  Karimov has dominated Uzbekistan so completely and for so long that it is difficult to imagine Uzbekistan without him or to guess what its course might be after he is gone.  This is made even more difficult by the fact that Karimov has no obvious successor.  The person who some – almost certainly wrongly – imagined Karimov might be grooming as is successor, his daughter Gulnara Karimova, suffered a dramatic loss of favour in 2014 and is now reported to be under arrest.

An iron rule of successions in autocratic dictatorships since the mid twentieth century is that they lead to a strong reaction against the person and policies of the dead leader after he is gone, with the successor, whoever he might be, trying to distinguish himself from the dead dictator by pursuing contrasting policies.

The nearest comparable situation which might give some clues to what may happen in Uzbekistan after Karimov is gone may be provided by the former Soviet Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan where until his still somewhat mysterious death in 2006 the Turkmen dictator Saparmurat Niyazov (“Turkmenbashi”) ran a regime in some respects similar though if possible even more repressive than Karimov’s.

Like Karimov Niyazov kept his distance from Russia, pursued a strongly nationalist domestic policy involving switching the spelling of the national language from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet, and kept Turkmenistan aloof from the various Russian led Eurasian institutions whilst pursuing a strongly independent foreign policy which at times seemed to tilt towards the US and the West. 

Niyazov’s successor, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, has since Niyazov’s death significantly softened the level of domestic repression in the country, and though he has still kept Turkmenistan outside the Russian led Eurasian institutions, he has nonetheless significantly improved relations with Russia.

Whether Uzbekistan follows a similar course to Turkmenistan remains to be seen.  Certainly the Russians will be watching the situation there closely.

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Trump Has Gifted “No More Wars” Policy Position To Bernie Sanders (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 148.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou discuss how US President Donald Tump appears to have ceded his popular 2016 ‘no more wars’ campaign message and policy position to Bernie Sanders and any other US 2020 candidate willing to grad onto a non-interventionist approach to the upcoming Democrat primaries.

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“Is Bernie Stealing Trump’s ‘No More Wars’ Issue?” by Patrick J. Buchanan…


The center of gravity of U.S. politics is shifting toward the Trump position of 2016.

“The president has said that he does not want to see this country involved in endless wars… I agree with that,” Bernie Sanders told the Fox News audience at Monday’s town hall meeting in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Then turning and staring straight into the camera, Bernie added:

“Mr. President, tonight you have the opportunity to do something extraordinary: Sign that resolution. Saudi Arabia should not be determining the military or foreign policy of this country.”

Sanders was talking about a War Powers Act resolution that would have ended U.S. involvement in the five-year civil war in Yemen that has created one of the great humanitarian crises of our time, with thousands of dead children amidst an epidemic of cholera and a famine.

Supported by a united Democratic Party on the Hill, and an anti-interventionist faction of the GOP led by Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee of Utah, the War Powers resolution had passed both houses of Congress.

But 24 hours after Sanders urged him to sign it, Trump, heeding the hawks in his Cabinet and National Security Council, vetoed S.J.Res.7, calling it a “dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities.”

With sufficient Republican votes in both houses to sustain Trump’s veto, that should be the end of the matter.

It is not: Trump may have just ceded the peace issue in 2020 to the Democrats. If Sanders emerges as the nominee, we will have an election with a Democrat running on the “no-more-wars” theme Trump touted in 2016. And Trump will be left defending the bombing of Yemeni rebels and civilians by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Does Trump really want to go into 2020 as a war party president?

Does he want to go into 2020 with Democrats denouncing “Trump’s endless wars” in the Middle East? Because that is where he is headed.

In 2008, John McCain, leading hawk in the Senate, was routed by a left-wing first-term senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who had won his nomination by defeating the more hawkish Hillary Clinton, who had voted to authorize the war in Iraq.

In 2012, the Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who was far more hawkish than Obama on Russia, lost.

Yet, in 2016, Trump ran as a different kind of Republican, an opponent of the Iraq War and an anti-interventionist who wanted to get along with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and get out of these Middle East wars.

Looking closely at the front-running candidates for the Democratic nomination of 2020 — Joe Biden, Sanders, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker — not one appears to be as hawkish as Trump has become.

Trump pulled us out of the nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry and reimposed severe sanctions.

He declared Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, to which Iran has responded by declaring U.S. Central Command a terrorist organization. Ominously, the IRGC and its trained Shiite militias in Iraq are in close proximity to U.S. troops.

Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the U.S. Embassy there, closed the consulate that dealt with Palestinian affairs, cut off aid to the Palestinians, recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights seized from Syria in 1967, and gone silent on Bibi Netanyahu’s threat to annex Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Sanders, however, though he stands by Israel, is supporting a two-state solution and castigating the “right-wing” Netanyahu regime.

Trump has talked of pulling all U.S. troops out of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the troops are still there.

Though Trump came into office promising to get along with the Russians, he sent Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine and announced a pullout from Ronald Reagan’s 1987 INF treaty that outlawed all land-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

When Putin provocatively sent 100 Russian troops to Caracas — ostensibly to repair the S-400 anti-aircraft and anti-missile system that was damaged in recent blackouts — Trump, drawing a red line, ordered the Russians to “get out.”

Biden is expected to announce next week. If the stands he takes on Russia, China, Israel and the Middle East are more hawkish than the rest of the field, he will be challenged by the left wing of his party, and by Sanders, who voted “no” on the Iraq War that Biden supported.

The center of gravity of U.S. politics is shifting toward the Trump position of 2016. And the anti-interventionist wing of the GOP is growing.

And when added to the anti-interventionist and anti-war wing of the Democratic Party on the Hill, together, they are able, as on the Yemen War Powers resolution, to produce a new bipartisan majority.

Prediction: By the primaries of 2020, foreign policy will be front and center, and the Democratic Party will have captured the “no-more-wars” political high ground that Candidate Donald Trump occupied in 2016.

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Over 200 killed, hundreds injured in series of blasts at Sri Lankan hotels & churches

A series of bombings hit churches and hotels across Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing more than 200 people.

RT

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Via RT…


A series of eight explosions rocked Catholic churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka as Christians began Easter Sunday celebrations, with over 200 killed and hundreds injured, media reported, citing police.

The blasts started at around 8:45am local time at St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a Catholic-majority town outside of the capital. The Zion Church in Batticaloa on the eastern coast was also targeted. At around the same time, the Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury five-star hotels were also hit, police confirmed.

Two more explosions happened later in the day, targeting two more locations in Colombo. All attacks appear to have been coordinated.

At least 207 people were killed, Reuters reported, citing police. More than 450 were injured in the attacks.

Alleged footage of the aftermath, shared on social media, showed chaos and large-scale destruction inside at least one of the churches.

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Mike Pompeo reveals true motto of CIA: ‘We lied, we cheated, we stole’ (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 147.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a look at a Texas A&M University speech, and subsequent interview, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The former CIA Director admitted, ‘as an aside’ to the question asked, that the Intelligence agency he headed up before being appointed as the top US Diplomat had a motto “we lied, we cheated, we stole”…which, according to Pompeo, contained entire CIA training courses based on ‘lying, cheating and stealing.’

Pompeo finally speaks some truth.

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